Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Conversation with an Anti-Reformist

Below appears an exchange between myself and an anti-reformist who serves on the DOE math task force. 

On Sunday morning, I wrote to the task force members:

After reflecting on the process that has been taking place at the task force meetings, I want to suggest that to get the task force on a better track, the comparison documents prepared by the NJ Math & Science Coalition be used as the basis for the discussion of the three groups -- not because the Coalition has the "right" answers, but because it contains a summary of the two documents (Feb 09 and Dec 08) and a thoughtful review of them, and reflects a serious attempt to find common ground.  I have attached the comparison documents of the Number Strand and the Geometry Strand.  These documents contain every indicator of the Dec 08 standards (written by the math standards committee) and the Feb 09 document (written by DOE personnel).  The Coalition is meeting all day today (yes, Sunday) to prepare the Algebra Strand and I will send that out tonight.

The response from the anti-reformists (name withheld) was:

I appreciate that work that you and the NJ Math and Science Coalition have done.  However, I believe that best way to put NJ on the right track is to seriously consider the comments from mathematicians from around the country as well as other comments provided to the NJDOE.  I must say that I respectfully disagree with you. Just using the December draft for comparison will not put New Jersey on the right track for success; this document has failed our children.  We have a 70% math remediation rate at the community colleges. We must use the NMAP as a blueprint and look to the highest performing countries as well as highly regarded state standards.  In order to do this, we must eliminate topics to make our standards more focused, rigorous, coherent and clear.  Additionally, as recommended by the NMAP, we must consider what is necessary for our children to have mastered to lay the proper foundation for Algebra I.  Let me reiterate that it is important that our children must understand concepts first followed by mastery which then can be applied to problem solving that becomes more complex over time.

My reply to the anti-reformists was:

When it comes to standards, it's the details that are important.  And the Coalition has conducted a detailed analysis of the two documents and has tried to incorporate the meritorious recommendations of BOTH documents.  It is just one piece that will help us reach common ground. The comments of mathematicians are welcome by the task force as our recommendations from the Singapore standards.  Many of them are incorporated into the Coalition’s comparison document.  We agree that the standards have too many CPIs and we have made attempts to reduce them.  The task force will not have accomplished its task if it ignores this analysis and thus ends up with a document which will not be accepted by the mathematics education community in the state. Your failure rhetoric and restating of assumptions does not seem to give any perception that you are looking for common ground.   I challenge you to read the comparisons document. I challenge you to stop the failure rhetoric and look for real common ground solutions for the good of NJ students.

The anti-reformists responded:

I am following the directive of Commissioner Davy that our starting point must be the February draft. Enjoy the beautiful weather.

In summary, when you challenge the anti-reformist to put down their rhetoric and ask them to search for common ground, they respond with the weather.

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